It isn't clear when, but at some point Reggie Upshaw Sr. underwent an identity change. One of the best defensive players to put on a Red Bank football uniform, he continued his playing career as a defensive tackle at Middle Tennessee State University, but a few years ago he stopped being recognized for his own athletic accomplishments and became known as Reggie Jr.'s dad.
It's a natural progression for many athletes, but it can be a bit of a jolt nonetheless.
Shortly after returning home to Chattanooga, Upshaw Sr. became the father of two rambunctious boys, and like so many former athletes he coached his sons from the time they were 4 years old until middle school. He and his wife turned Reggie Jr. over to the Baylor staff and then took their places in the stands with the other parents.
And that's when the transformation happened, with Reggie Sr. becoming "Little Reggie's dad."
In the past two years Reggie Jr. has become the city's best athlete, having won a state high jump championship and earned all-state honors in both football and basketball as a junior. Several weeks ago he accepted a scholarship offer from his father's alma mater, turning down a football offer from Vanderbilt to continue playing basketball, the sport he has loved since grade school.
"My wife and I pretty much told him it was his decision to make," Upshaw Sr. said. "We gave him advice but let him make his own decision on what he would do, and we're happy for him. My main thing in talking with both of my boys is that they understand how important it is to get their education first.
"I want them to walk out of a university with a degree that's meaningful, something they can use to have a career. To know that he'll get to play basketball while he's getting his education is just icing on the cake."
But his senior year hasn't been all good news for Reggie Jr. After missing the last seven weeks of the football season with a broken right foot, he suffered another fracture in the same foot just as basketball season tipped off. As Baylor breezed through its Best of Preps tournament semifinal game Friday evening, Reggie Jr. sat on the bench, cheering on his teammates and especially his brother Gage, a freshman who has taken over his post position.
"I never thought I'd be sitting out pretty much my entire senior season," said Reggie Jr., who will wear a stabilizing boot for another three weeks but could be cleared to return to the court for the final few weeks of the season. "It's been pretty frustrating. It has taught me about patience, though. I guess that's the one lesson I've learned from this.
"The one thing I would like to do is come back this year just to finish out my senior season on the court. And it would be really special to get to play in a game with my brother. We've never been on the same team before."
The 6-foot-7, 215-pound Upshaw, who averaged a double-double in basketball last season, could bolster a loaded Red Raiders roster and help them return to the Division II state tournament, where they lost in the semifinals last season.
But if doctors warn against him rushing back, Reggie Sr. said he likely will step in and instill some fatherly advice.
"He's pretty hard-headed, so I'll have to make sure he follows the doctor's orders so he's healthy and ready to go when he leaves for college," Reggie Sr. said. "I would love to see him finish out his high school career getting to play, and especially with his brother, because that's something both of them would cherish for a long time, and it would be a special memory for my wife and me, too.
"What I remember from my own career are those special moments like that. And I can say as a father watching your kids, that their career in sports goes by a lot faster. Too fast, really. It's hard to believe Reggie is almost in college."
And once the older Upshaw son leaves for Murfreesboro, his father likely will undergo yet another identity change, becoming known more around town as Gage's dad for the next three years.
Stephen has covered local sports in the tri-state area for more than 20 years, starting at the News-Free Press as a 19-year-old reporter. He has been with the Times Free Press since its inception and has been an assistant sports editor since 2005. Stephen is among the most decorated writers in the TFP’s newsroom, winning numerous state, regional and national writing awards. He was named one of the top 10 sports writers in the nation ...